The following is from our recently published eBook, Planning Your Next Website, of which you can download in its entirety for free by clicking here. As a website support company, we see the good, the bad, the ugly (and the really ugly). We hope to help organizations make the right hiring choices when it comes to having their next website built.
Choosing The Right Developer/Designer is Critical Decision #1
Whether you are a small business who needs to build their primary online presence, an agency executive managing a new website design/build for your client, or an employee managing a new website project on behalf of your company – you are about to embark on a complex journey whereby the result will be either accolades and business growth or a pain in the ass with a multitude of unexpected consequences.
This Could Be Scary
Wow! That sounds scary and dramatic… and that’s because it is. Sure, technology has progressed, become simplified, become cheaper, faster and simply plain ol’ easier to use. However, I urge you to never lose sight of the fact that websites are still very complex applications that require multiple servers, technologies, networks, software, languages, frameworks and a whole bunch of s**** to make them work. There is a lot that can go wrong!
So, my goal here is not to scare you but to start you out on a path of success (reading this eBook is a good place to start). At FatLab, LLC we are a web support company, and I can tell you that we see a lot of bad websites… I take that back… we see a lot of really bad sites.
A Big Budget Will NOT Shield You from Crap
At FatLab we are privileged to be working for organizations that aren’t poor, cheap, or budget-strapped. Sure, they all have budgets, but my point is that the majority of the sites we see were not cheap; and bad development is not necessarily a reflection of what an organization paid for their website. I have personally seen websites that cost over $100K (yes, seriously) that are horribly built, and I have seen websites that cost a few thousand that are models of computer science genius. Get it? A healthy budget is not going to guarantee you a good product, and a low budget doesn’t necessarily mean a crappy product.
No Rules or Regulations. Welcome to the Wild West
Web development and design is an unregulated industry. There are no qualifications to call oneself a “developer” or “designer.” There are no tests to take, no certificates to show off and no universal rate card. You can get people to do the same task for $5/hour that you can for $250/hour. There is no uniformity. Just because someone charges more does not mean they are better at their job than someone who charges less. Is a $100K website 5 times more complex than a $20K website? Not always!
I am here to tell you that I have been calling myself a “developer” for about 20 years… does that seem right to you: I was a developer at year 1 and I am a “developer” at year 20? I can tell you I know a hell of a lot more today than I did 20 years ago, but that did not stop me from telling people I knew how to program … and they hired me.
It’s All in a Title… NOT
Ability to Write Code Not Required
Did you know that you can build a website today without writing one line of code? You can, and I’m not even talking about services like SquareSpace and Wix, I’m talking about custom websites built with WordPress and other CMS’s for example. We have seen it time after time, people who call themselves “developers” who literally point and click their way through building websites for their clients. Now the question is: is this so wrong? It depends on whether your contractor can fulfill the criteria of your project by pointing and clicking their way through plugin and commercial theme installs. If so, then all is good, if not, then you just hired the wrong person to build your website.
Developers, Programmers, Engineers, and other Fancy Titles
Personally, I would not call a point-and-click person a “developer,” I am a “developer” as I know several languages and frameworks and server environments. However, with that said, I know computer scientists (I’m talking people who hold master’s degrees from institutions like Johns Hopkins, MIT and other reputable places) who try their best to hold back their mocking laughter when web people use words like “developer” or “programmer.” God, forbid I call myself “engineer.” For the record, I never do call myself “engineer,” but I have seen some comical resumes in my time of self-proclaimed “engineers.” Please note: the lack of degree does not stop “developers” and “programmers” from calling themselves “computer engineers,” “software engineers” and the like … remember when I said this is an unregulated industry?
Full stack, engineer, developer, programmer … it’s all unqualified bullshit. Is a senior developer any better than a junior developer? Nope. I have seen people with 1 year experience run circles around developers with more than 10 years’ experience. It’s kind of like sports, you can play the game but if you don’t have natural talent, you will never make the pros.
Portfolios and Testimonials Don’t Tell You Everything
Now let’s talk portfolios and recommendations. We all have them, and they typically look and sound good. Of course, I’m not going to give you the names of my unhappy clients or show you the projects that didn’t turn out great. Also know that a strong portfolio is not necessarily a sign of a good developer. When you review someone’s portfolio you are not looking under the hood. It’s tough to tell if the site was built well, if the client is happy with the performance, or frustrated with lack of easy administration. It’s the old ‘judging a book by its cover’ analogy and something as complex as software should never be judged simply by its design. This brings me to my final point of this not-so-brief introduction … design versus development.
Is a Developer a Designer or is a Designer a Developer?
I will argue to end of days that design and development are very different skill sets and the likelihood (chance) that one person is good at both is very low. Sure, as a developer of websites for over 20 years I will claim to have a sense of good or bad design but that does not mean that I am “designer.” This is not to say that people can’t do both. I’m just warning you that they will be better at one thing than the other. Take this into consideration as you decide who you are going to work with for your next project. From large teams with front-end developers, back-end developers, project managers, UX/UI experts, junior/senior designers to studios with developers and designers to one-person shops/freelancers who do everything. There is a reason for all these models, and they all turn out very different projects. This must be a consideration before you make the investment into your next web project. Do not assume that designers are developers or developers are designers.